Gro-Vember – Together and Apart
Can this relationship withstand facial hair?
Less than a week after November started (and with it, “Movember,” which encourages men to grow a mustache, goatee or beard), and just two days after Pete told me he wasn’t going to shave for the rest of the month, the seams of our family blanket were starting to split. I couldn’t look at him. I started avoiding him (which isn’t that hard, because lately Pete’s been working 12-hour days). It sounds silly – ostracize your mate because he’s altered (and not to your liking) his appearance?
I’ve been through a hell of a lot worse – try looking at your husband when he’s bloated with 30 pounds of IV fluids, or after he drops 30 pounds because he can’t eat. Pronounced eye sockets and purplish-red skin are not sexy. My late husband, Sean, had all of that – and more.
Here’s the thing – for the first week Sean lay unconscious in Intensive Care, he remained unshaven. Each day he looked more and more forlorn. Stubble, for me, was a sign of incapacity, of sickness and utter helplessness. Who is my strong husband if he can’t even shave himself? I asked the nurses if they had a spare moment, between bouts of trying to save Sean’s life, if they might be able to clean him up – maybe give him a shave. I didn’t yet have presence of mind to attempt razoring Sean myself (I did, however, wash his hair using dry shampoo).
The morning I returned to Sean’s ICU room after staff washed and groomed him was a mood-lifter. He looked like my husband again - like someone who might, sometime soon, start talking, walking and feeding himself.
So you can see I have baggage around facial hair. An irrational amount thereof. Maybe I just needed time to get used to a healthy, hairy partner – one who walks, talks, and even flies airplanes.
Giving things time is not my forte. I’ve earned a black belt in knee-jerk reaction. I’m uncomfortable with what (and who) I can’t control. Tant pis (French for too bad), because that’s most things and most people (children and partners included).
Also, I abhor playing the victim card. Yes, I lost my husband. Yes, it was a horrible experience. You mop the hurricane’s mess, shovel the sludge and keep living.
Nutella as a Weapon
I turned to two of my best friends, Writing and Humor to tackle a situation over which I assumed I had little jurisdiction. Pete’s gonna grow a beard? Fine, I’ll grow fat and write about it.
Did I take it too far? The day after posting a blog entry stating my exasperation with Movember, http://pickendawn.blogspot.co.nz/2012/11/grow-vember.html I started a Facebook page devoted to my own cause, “Gro-Vember.” The page’s explanation reads,
What’s Movember? Presumbly, it’s when men grow facial hair to raise awareness of prostate cancer and other men’s health issues. How many fundraisers and walks has your Mo Bro taken part in? Are you discussing his deep empathy for sufferers of prostate cancer and depression? Right. Women need a similar excuse to let themselves go (or ‘gro’) for a month: Help raise awareness of obesity by packing on 10-20 pounds (4-9 kilos)...
I linked to an article piece opining Movember was turning men into “sad, sober simpering wrecks.“ I also posted two pictures of me, a close-up showing a giant spoonful of chocolate hazelnut spread; the other, a ‘before’ shot of me in a red bikini (taken from head-height, because everyone looks thinner when photographed from above).
It was a combination of the last picture and the fact neither Pete nor I slept the night before that tipped my PAHT-nah over the edge. While I was tee-hee-hee-ing about my latest online exploits, Pete was stewing – deeply troubled – about online pictures of his partner and my avoidance of him. He called me shortly before noon, saying, “Are you going to be home around one? I need to talk to you.”
My first thought was something had happened at work –layoffs? My second thought: Maybe he’s upset about my Gro-Vember stunt. Whatever the issue, Pete rarely comes home during the day. Heck, he rarely pauses five minutes to eat lunch. Something’s wrong.
One-half hour later, Pete comes home. His stubbly face, already sinister in its swarthiness, looks even scarier due to an expression of deep concern – narrowed eyes, mouth set in a hard line. He hardly looks like My Petey. Uh-oh.
Pete gets right to it: “I read your blog, and I thought it was funny. But the Facebook site, the picture of you in a bikini…” He tells me he didn’t like the cold shoulder, the fact we’d slept apart the night before (In a fit of insomnia I gave up tossing and turning in bed and crashed on the couch to allow TV to hypnotize me to sleep). Pete says, “I’m wondering if this is a bump in the road or something more…”
Oh. My. God. My beloved – my stubbly, scraggly Scots/Kiwi has interpreted my molehill as The Mount. I feel like crap.
Let us Choose our Words...
Let us Choose our Words...
I can’t recall exactly what Pete started saying that prompted the following response, but I felt tremendous gratitude at having just last week read the lines in Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, Committed. “Let’s choose our words very carefully,” I said, echoing what Gilbert’s partner had said during an argument in Laos. I continue, “We can’t un-ring the bell after we’ve spoken.” Gilbert wrote,
…there are, perhaps, moments when a couple must practice preemptive conflict resolution, arresting an argument before it can even begin. So this had become a code phrase of ours, a signpost to mind the gap and beware of falling rocks.
Let’s choose our words carefully. Mind the gap. Not just you. Or me. Let us. We needed that. I start visualizing the end of this conversation, the part where Pete wraps his arms around me.
“It was a joke,” I say. Finally, I offload my baggage surrounding facial fuzz: I tell him about Sean, even though I know it’s unfair to impose old images on my new partner.
Just like it’s unfair for Pete to make me carry his baggage – one of his ex-partners had been unfaithful, so, like a spy, Pete sits with his back to the wall, vigilant.
“I’m not looking for an out,” I say. “Don’t assume the worst.”
What Have We Learned Here?
What Have We Learned Here?
I tell you this story not to embarrass my beloved (surely, I’ve already embarrassed myself - I’m allowed) but to explain to myself and you the moral of the story: it doesn’t matter how trivial or momentous the disagreement – what matters is how we treat each other during conflict.
I hide – outside or behind a computer screen – from Conflict. My partner meets Conflict on the sidewalk (footpath in NZ), before it enters the road. He’s unafraid to speak his mind. I, however, will avoid a discussion when I believe I already know the other person’s answer (and don’t think I’ll like it).
Pete’s dispute resolution style is both disarming and sexy in a bend-you-over-my-knee-for-a-spanking kinda way. I feel as if the Principal has summoned me. And the Principal is hot (though not-so-hot while sporting prickly facial stubble). Any interaction with Pete is filtered through a lens of desire and hormones.
We end our discussion as I’d imagined: curled together on the sofa, his arms around mine. I ask Pete what he wants of me – not what he thinks I’m willing to do, but what he really wants. He wants me not to shut him out. He doesn’t like the bikini picture. I want him to avoid negative assumptions. And to shave.
That night, Pete razes all but a scrawny stoner ‘stache. It feels like the sticker plants that grow in New Zealand grass, but looks 200 percent better than the full beard. I remove the bikini picture from Facebook. Not because I think there’s anything wrong with it, but because it bothered Pete.
I don’t expect to avoid conflict – especially not since I’ve chosen a partner with similar stubborn tendencies. But I do know if we choose our words carefully, if we can tap our empathy reserves, our relationship can withstand disputes about big issues – like money, family – and facial hair.
22 more days, and Movember will be over. What then?